Finding Neverland – The Erosion of Childhood

[Image - Viktor Hanacek]
Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

When you think of your childhood, what do you picture? How do you feel? And when your children grow up and are asked the same question, what would you like their answers to be?

Many people have fond memories of childhood and will refer to it as a time of carefree innocence, a time of laughter and magic. Many of us will say that we look back on our childhood as a time we loved, a time when we were happy. When we look back on it though, what are the things we really favour? Which memories bring us the most joy?

“If we define childhood by positive experiences and the memories that matter, are we giving our children real childhoods?” 

In today’s society, which is far more obsessed with instant gratification and the ‘self’ than ever, a time when our lives are saturated by screens and friends are people who exist on Facebook; are we giving our children memories to look back on and enjoy?

Screen time reduction: Be positive!

Experts are urging us to limit children’s screen times, saying development of addiction, poor attention span and depression can be caused by spending endless hours in front of televisions and computers. Why, though, do we see reducing screen time as a negative?

Scientists and doctors tell us that prolonged screen time can be linked to heart disease, strokes and diabetes and that’s without even mentioning the warped expectations and pressures we are exposing our children to at such a young age. Yet, instead of focusing on the many positives of reduction, we allow ourselves – and therefore our children – to see this limiting of screen-time as a bad thing! We focus on that time and how much we get from it, rather than opening our eyes to real life and the enjoyment we can experience there.

Using our senses

When you remember being a child, do you not think of climbing trees (or attempting to), of painting and baking and dressing up to play imaginative games with your friends or siblings? Do you remember bedtime stories and waiting for it to rain so you could splash in the biggest puddle in your brand new wellies? I’m sure most of your memories aren’t of playing ‘Candy Crush Saga’ or indeed of one dimensional experiences, which looking at a screen often is.

When you think back to baking, for example, can’t you smell the cake mixture, feel the sticky fingers where you had dipped them in the bowl, see the rich chocolate and taste it spreading across your tongue. How many senses were you using then? Now think of playing a game on the iPad. Which senses are being maximised playing those games?

We can encourage our children to learn about the world around them, to make dens in the garden and tents in the living room. Your children can use all their senses at once during so many simple activities. Get the paints out, encourage them to use different things to paint with – brushes, a scrunched up piece of paper, fingers, potato shapes.

Stop stressing about mess and let them play with the toy castle with the hundred tiny knight figures. Encourage them to read and create stories themselves. Go out for a walk and collect things to make a collage with. These can be at the heart of special childhood memories.


Learn to prioritise. Yes, their homework is important, but there are fun ways to do it and how many hours do we really think they should put in at such a young age? We’ve started to focus earlier and earlier on exams and academia, but are those the fond memories we hold of our own childhood?

Learning is great and when you are overtaken by inspiration there isn’t a better feeling, but there is so much more to learn in life than what an exam board covers. Are we limiting childhood for our youngsters by applying pressure to do too much homework too young?

Often, we could be helping them do their homework, or learn what they are struggling with through fun anyway. If you read exciting books to your child and encourage them to read stories they enjoy, they will find reading easier than if you leave it to their teacher. If you do some baking, get them involved in buying the ingredients, measuring them out and timing the cooking (maths), as well as reading the recipe (English) and decorating the cake (art). Encourage them to ask questions and try not to brush them off, for many children, asking questions is a way that they learn and come to understand the world around them.

What can you do?

Try writing down what you feel about childhood, and some of your favourite memories. Are you giving your children these? Exploring a cave on a summer holiday, walking in the woods with your family, spending a whole weekend making a house for your tiny doll out of cardboard, playing football in the garden and playing for hours in the paddling pool.

Try switching off the screens and being inventive. Ask your parents what they did with you before children’s TV became an endless distraction. Most importantly, ask yourself, what do you hope childhood will mean to your child? Aim for that above all else!